A Hopi friend of mine tells me that in his culture, the crops are considered their children, someone to be nurtured and strengthened and brought to maturity with great care. Seeds are lovingly planted deep in the soil, where they will have enough moisture, and companion plants are grown together so they support each other’s resilience and wellness. Many Indigenous farmers sing to their plants and their seeds, to thank and encourage them. As I was planting seeds for fall veggies, I used bigger containers and soil with more nutrients, because I am feeling they need to mature more before being planted out, so they can withstand the extremes of our climate-change affected weather. As they sprout and grow, I fuss over them daily to make sure they have enough moisture and light, not too much. I realize I may have become a helicopter-parent to my plants! I hope I won’t make them fragile and over-sensitive.
I am trying to be more tuned-in to my “children”, not just the garden crops, but also the wild and volunteer plants and wildlife here. The goldfinches have come back early this year, for example, finishing off the sunflower seeds and confident I’ll fill the thistle feeder when other seeds’ season ends. The tiny frogs, who were here in biblical numbers this summer devouring insects around my porch lights, are fewer, though fatter now and soon will be hibernating under the roots of the mulberry tree. The bees have been sluggish but industrious in seeking out the last summer foods to tuck away in their pantries. I am not one of those legendary elders who expertly track the interlocking signs of the seasons, but I can guess we’ll have an early and cold winter this year. So it’s time to prepare row covers for tender greens and insulation for fruit trees, just as parents of small humans are getting sweaters, warm coats and mittens out of the storage bins for the winter.
Since the industrial revolution, it seems we have accepted the idea that impersonal, mass production is optimal, and, since the 1950s, that time and motion efficiency and economies of scale are unquestionable. Certainly tending to my hen’s sore foot with natural cures and soft words does nothing to maximize my profit margin. Though these ideas of scale and efficiency optimize short-term returns, we would do well to think about the long-term well-being of our planet, our home. As we face more weather-related challenges to our food sources and systems —including extreme temperatures, fierce winds, droughts, storms, herbicide drift, super-pests and super-weeds, and more intense sunlight (high UV index) — perhaps a bit more nurturing, even hovering will be required to coax food from plants.
To feel this tenderness and affection for the world around us, this responsibility, requires intimacy and observation of details. Farmer-poet Wendell Berry once responded to increasing globalization by asking how a person in a far-away office could make any decision at all about an area of land, when after 40 years on his farm, he was learning new details every day. What if we each took a personal-sized chunk of the world — your back yard, local creek or fields for example — to really know, to care for, to sing to and listen to, to nurture as you would your child?